Roger was sleeping soundly when suddenly he awoke. He panicked cause he didn't know where he was. His heart pumped blood wildly throughout his skinny body. His eyes darted around until he finally focused on the walls of the cave. As the light from outside penetrated the interior of the cave, he rubbed his sleep-crusted eyes, slowly remembering where he was. Thus unfortunately remembering what had driven him into the cave.
He'd come down to the breakfast table late, as usual. He wasn't the most punctual, by-the-book son. He left that to his older brother, Raymond. Ray was their parents shining star. Roger kind of tagged along, being ten years younger. Not that he minded too much. He was proud of his older brother. Ray had recently been shipped overseas to a place called Vietnam. Ray had missed fighting in the Korean War by nine years. How he'd followed the news stories of the fighting men of Korea. He vowed he'd be like them, serving his country to better America and the lives of the people in these foreign places. Now, in November of 1962, he had been fulfilling his wish for almost three months. Leaving poor little Roger all alone to deal with a house full of adults. Adults who were currently huddled around the breakfast table.
Things were strangely calm this morning. The party last night must've done them in. He'd have to be quieter than usual. He'd take his harmonica and go down by the river. It was quiet with the water gently bubbling down the riverbed. He reached for the pitcher of milk, knocking the flower vase over in the process. As the dreaded water trickled down the edges of the lacey tablecloth, he knew his mother would give him heck, and his father would smack him a good one. He hated that. Eleven year olds still made mistakes. Plus he wasn't a fan of hitting, or any kind of violence for that matter. Bracing himself for the smack which never came, it dawned on him something was really wrong.
"Mom, Dad? Uncle Fred?" he asked, looking around the table.
"Roger, just eat and go play with your strange little friends," Betty Horne answered distractedly, referring to Roger's hippie-in-training friends.
"No," he boldly defied.
"Roger, you heard your mother. It's bad enough Ray...." his father started.
"Ray! He wrote?" Roger asked excitedly. Well what was so bad about that?
"Roger, please go outside," his mother ordered, her voice cracking with emotion.
His uncle spoke up. "He has to know."
"Not yet," his father replied, as he leaned over to comfort his wife.
Uncle Fred tried again. "He'll find out sooner or later. It'll be better coming from you."
"*Quit talking about me like I'm not here*!" Roger shouted.
"Roger, please. Just give us some time...." his father pleaded.
Uncle Fred spoke up again. "Leonard, I'm sorry." He turned to his young nephew. "Roger, we received some bad news today. Your brother was killed today in a bombing raid. We just got the telegram. I'm sorry, Roger."
"NO!" he screamed. "I don't believe you. Your lying. I hate you all!" With that he kicked away from the table, ran down the hall to the front door, and tore out of the house, leaving the trio behind to barely register he had even vacated the house.
Roger had sped his legs towards the river as he'd planned. However he didn't sprawl out comfortably along the banks, but journeyed up a ways to his cave. It was here he let the news sink in. His brother was gone. Fighting in some war like he'd always dreamed of.
"Dying wasn't part of the plan, Ray!" he shouted aloud. "Now I'm really all alone." Roger collapsed into tears, tiring himself out. He slept for about half an hour, but it felt like only five minutes.
Now he was awake again. He got to thinking about his friends. They were acting weird these days, wearing beads, bell-bottoms, and talking funny. Bo, Darby, and Frank flatly refused to cut their hair, imitating some older kids who had taken the notion into their heads. They had given Roger such a hard time for having a brother over in Vietnam killing people. Maybe they had a point. The Vietnamese probably had families who felt this searing pain when they found out their brothers had been killed. Well he wasn't going to the same as Ray. He wasn't going to fight in some stupid war. No was could make him either. He took out his harmonica and slowly began playing taps as his brother had taught him.
"Good-bye, Ray," he whispered when he finished playing.